Thursday, 29 September 2016

The SEAA Road Relays – The long and windy road

6am, Sunday morning. The alarm goes. This can’t be right. There must be some kind of mistake.

As nice as it was to have the Southern Road Relays on one day for the first time in living memory, the wake-up call to Bedford was a brutal reminder as to what in reality this actually meant. The unknown location of Bedford Autodrome was a;so a worrying factor. Was the venue up to scratch? Was it going to be any more forgiving than the short sharp painful hills of Aldershot that always kill me off? These worries would have to wait. The more pressing issue of getting there on time was far more important, and as such the meeting for the coach was 7.45am. I was extremely worried that some of the group would miss it. I was sadly proven correct.

With two members of the team going to be far too late, we had no choice but to leave without them. Never an easy choice that, but if we’d waited the Under 13 Girls would have missed their race.
As you could imagine I was cool calm and collected in this scenario, if by calm you mean spitting feathers and collected you mean banging my head against my all weather clipboard. Having (wrongly) written them off, the call came through that the two of them had met up and paid for a train to Bedford. Fair play to them, many others would have gone home back to bed. They later tried to walk to the venue from Bedford station…that’s nine miles. Thankfully we sourced a lift for them.  

Arriving at Bedford, it wasn’t long before I was pining for this event to be back at Aldershot. For a start the toilets were a country mile away from the actual start-line. I glanced at the portable loos as we sprinted over to get the numbers…it would be closest I would get to them for the next three hours. Add to that the lack of catering (an overpriced burger van doesn’t count), audio PA system and as the day wore on actual results, it was easy to see why so many people complained about this event afterwards. Jess Judd is on record as saying it was a terrible event and that Chelmsford wouldn’t go back if it was ever held at Bedford again. It was hard to disagree.

When the young athlete’s races were over, I rewarded myself with a one-mile hike to the loos. And perhaps all too predictably, there was a massive long queue. If I'd waited any longer I would have been pissing in wind (Boom tish, here all week…).

The discussion of said wind was proving a popular topic. In a completely unsheltered field, it had played havoc with every single race so far. At least it was the same for everyone then. In fact when we were discussing said element, a heavy gust scooped up Cambridge’s tent next to us in the air where it proceeded to nearly decapitate half our team.

Some of our team helping with Cambridge's runaway tents
Come 4.15pm, six hours after I’d arrived at the venue it was my turn to race. The mass start for those who hadn’t yet set off on their last leg awaited. An official popped over and drew on my number. 

“THE CROSS OF SHAME” one of my fellow mass starters shouted.

Lining up, I was hardly confident, I normally get thrashed in this event and today would be no different. The gun went and the rest of the field were extremely unsporting….they all ran off into the distance. I’d be on my own for the entire run.

The wind was the most outrageous I’ve ever experienced. My number was clinging onto my vest for dear life, while my eyes watered trying to see where I was actually going. It was also peculiar running in the vastest most cavernous space you could ever wish to see. It was like Omar Sharif’s introduction in Lawrence of Arabia…but in reverse.

At 2km I could barely see the Chiltern runner in front of me so small he was in the distance. Thankfully another team member Kieron had walked over quite considerable distance over the fields to cheer me on and indeed up.

“Got ‘em on the ropes now Kieron!” I spluttered. He laughed. Thank God he did, it was just about the only thing keeping me sane by this point. The rest of the run remains a painful windy blur. I gained no ground on the Chiltern runner, who was 2nd to last out of our group of a dozen last leg runners, despite him being a 2:55 marathoner. Peter cheered me on at 4km that was about it in terms of the capacity crowds. In truth, it wasn’t the greatest spectator course. It was an odd feeling knowing I was the last one out there. Memories of being stone cold last in school races came to the forefront of my mind. Anything to distract me from the pain. A similar thing happened in 2012, when I was lapped in this race which was also the first competition my now wife saw me run at. Needless to say she hasn’t returned to spectate since.   

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally entered the home stretch. Barely anyone batted an eyelid. Although having said that, there could have been rapturous applause, it was hard to tell in the hurricane conditions. The time to my complete shock for the 6km course was 24:37. So roughly a 20:06 5K which is about right for me. A ParkRun this certainly is not.  

As I knelt on the floor wheezing and being consoled by my team’s young athletes, an official approached me.
“I don’t mean to be rude Matt, but were you the last one out there?”
“Yes” I mustered, and then I fell on the floor. The young athletes were so concerned with this development they went off for a selfie with Andy Vernon.

It is nice to know for a change where I finished in this competition. Never before has there been an actual list of times in ascending order as hard as that is to believe. It must have taken forever to type up. Scrolling down to the last page, I was 365th…out of 380, one second slower than my teammate on 5th leg. On the plus side this now means I can ask him “Have you got a second?” every training session for the next year.

One of the people that I was ahead of, is one of my all-time running heroes namely Ian Graham of Bournemouth. Things didn’t really click for me in my running until I went to Uni. I remain so grateful to Bournemouth for everything they did for me. The sessions were arduous, I was often at the back, but was always involved and made to feel welcome. Ian was always supportive, telling me politely to “put in some effort”, my usual response being “I’M DYING”. Rob McTaggart, was also very supportive while I was there. He is an incredible athlete, today he was 43rd. It was nice to catch up with them and grab a pic. I’ll never forget the support they showed me in both racing and training.

As for this competition? Bring back Aldershot, all is very much forgiven. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sparrows Den Relays - Being Attentive...

Week two of the cross country season and another set of relays beckon in the form of the Will Bolton Memorial race at Sparrows Den. 

With the calendar so busy, it's great to see that the local open races like this one still survive and are well supported by the surrounding area's clubs. It's also great practice for the fast approaching South of England relays - which are in Bedford of all places.

This event immediately presented a problem for me in the form of our newly purchased gazebo, which seemed like such a good idea at the time of fundraising. I mostly have a hate relationship with our team tents. In the past, we've had a mini festival pop up version which is just about big enough to shelter a pair of spikes. Inevitably the tent meets its demise where is ceremonially lobbed into the nearest skip normally at the end of the season. 

National Cross-County 2015...
Or sometimes it doesn't even make the start-line. I infamously once tried to save the club money by purchasing one from a retailer that rhymes with Warts Pearled. Rather unfortunately, I had failed to notice a slogan on the side of it, which was deemed ill fit for purpose by the young athlete’s parents.

They had a point.

That tent is now in Calais.

Or how about the time in Sunderland after the National Cross in 2012, when I couldn't feel my feet, any of my face or indeed my hands. I nearly lobbed it into a nearby field after a meltdown, all the while egged on by colleagues David and Martin who were just as fed up as I was.... 

Tents to me then, are not like Clare Balding and her Olympic trolley…

This time, I'd parked in the wrong car park and had to lug the thing single-handedly about 400m. That could be fun at Parliament Hill...

This of course was quickly forgotten when it started raining and the team quickly took shelter.
"It's a nice tent this" said one of the kids, blissfully unaware of the effort it took to get it there.

After the young athletes relays, it was my turn to race, by which time I’d almost forgotten that I actually had to run. Sticking myself on last leg (slowest on last you see), my team were somewhere in the middle of the field. As my incoming runner approached, South London's John Foss (arguably one of the best Masters runners in the UK with medals to match) wished me luck. It is tradition for me to belt off at a pace I can't maintain and be quickly caught by Foss no matter what the distance we run. Perhaps with a head start I could just about hold on. 

400m in, it was clear no one in front of me would be coming back to me any time soon. They were quickly vanishing specs on the horizon. I glanced back to see John about 300m back. I'd have to cling on.

The course at West Wickham is short but tricky with two sharp hills which basically kill me off every time. Halfway through, the race also runs adjacent to a road where I failed my driving test on three occasions. This was apt as I was struggling to get out of 2nd gear (boom tish I'm here all week...).

Approaching the final field, to my complete shock I caught a Blackheath athlete down a narrow path. So narrow, I couldn't get past. I could feel a queue forming behind me. Into the final field I braced myself for being inevitably caught by the masses. Thankfully it was just one Tonbridge lady, proof that their conveyor belt of athletes is still very much functioning. I clung on for as long as I could, while overtaking the Blackheath guy but it wasn’t long before she got away. I ran past my car…400m to go then and still no sign of John - maybe I’d just hold on this time.
Kill me now...
The final stretch was a blur. I’d be interested to know what other athletes go through in the final stretches of races, mine tends to be a pained fog.

I crossed the line, a grand total of one second faster than last year. Not quite as disastrous as the Surrey Relays then. John followed in shortly after me having run significantly faster than I had mustered so really he was the real winner. The team were tucked away safely in the middle of the field in 18th out of 55.
Not feeling treemendous

Right on cue on the heavens opened, and with us all being completely shattered, our final task of the day was to put away the flipping tent. It may well be the death of me. Thank goodness for Keith helping me to drag the beast to my car.

A small step in the right direction running-wise…now I’ve just got to get to Bedford...

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Surrey Road Relays - The struggle

This is my 12th cross-country season with the club. The race which traditionally signifies its start, is the County Road Relays in this case the Surrey incarnation. I have a love-hate relationship with this course which runs adjacent to the Wimbledon tennis courts. I’ve made just about every mistake you could wish to on the five previous occasions I’ve run here. There’s the old chestnut of sprinting up the hill too quickly which is approximately 1K into the 5km course.  And then there’s the running too quickly down the hill faux pas, which is on the other side of the incline. I go to great lengths to warn any newcomers not follow in my footsteps.

Encouragingly however last year I, rather out of the blue, ran a course best of 18 minutes and 19 seconds on a 5K course which is probably 300m short. Hope indeed then, going into this time round.

Training in the build-up has been modest to say the least. Strava reveals very few weeks in excess of 20 miles a week this year. This ranks me just above a recreational jogger. Realistically I’ll have to try and sort this out if I’m ever going to improve this season, or at the very least do some quality interval sessions.

Today I was in the club’s B team. The weather was cloudy, the temperature was mild, it was essentially perfect running conditions.

After the remarkably straightforward task of sorting the teams out (everyone arrived on time and no drop outs….a team manager’s dream) I found myself in the packed changeover zone on the 2nd leg. After 12 and a half minutes the first athletes charged onto the track for their final 300m spurt. Seeing these guys sprinting up close (having already done 4.4km) was a timely reminder as to just how good these guys are. If I quit my job and trained twice day six days a week, I’d bet that I still wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near them.

Pottering around pre-race
Pleasingly, third home was our A team runner Ben Savill, who is undoubtedly the most improved athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. In 2010 I remember pacing Ben, then a teenager, through a scintillating 3,000m in ten minutes and 42 seconds. I trot this anecdote out every time I see him, and will continue to do so until the end of time. Just a few years later through his sheer hard work he is winning County medals. Quite incredible. On a side note, he is in the latest Strava advert.

My team’s first leg runner, Dan, would be in at a very solid 17:12, again a time well out of reach for myself. Within moments of tagging a women’s team flew past me. Good start.

From the outset I felt sluggish. A lack of training immediately took its toll. The female runners soon disappeared into the distance up the initial incline. Once at the top I was a goner…I was 1.5 kilometres into the 5km race.

Setting off...
It’s a horrendous feeling when you know there’s no gas in the tank so early in the race - every wobbly stride becomes a struggle. Every breath an absolute pain.

The downhill brought some rest-bite but it’s when you are back in the park that is the real killer of this course. I was a sitting duck and two teams shot past with ease. I was clinging on for dear life, before a few familiar marshals raised the spirits temporarily.

Mike Fleet, ever the legend, screamed some encouragement from his marshaling point. I wish I could work out what he said, everything was a blur.

Entering into the stadium with 300m to go I was in no man’s land. I was too adrift from challenging anyone in front of me but with no-one (mercifully) closing in on me.

One of our supporters shouted some encouragement from the stand. But it was no use. Everything had gone and when I crossed the line I was in a dire state. I managed to drag myself to the nearby railings where I sat for 10 minutes while concerned teammates kindly tried to cheer me up. That’s the great thing about this sport -the friendships and camaraderie are absolutely unrivaled.

On death's door.
Once recovered it was great to take in some of the other racing. Often I miss all of the action when it’s just a straight race because I'm so far back in the field. It was particularly nice to see Rob on my team do well. Having known him since he was a young athlete, it is great to see such progress.

The teams got stuck in. The A team were 7th and mine was 16th out of 22. When I first started doing this race nine (!!!) years ago some of us had to do double legs just get a team home. Now we had two teams and a masters and half a women’s team. Again, progress!

On a personal level a time of 18 minutes and 48 isn’t much too write home about. Half a minute down on last year’s effort and behind most my local ‘rivals’ if it is possible to have such things at my level. It’s also in the mid table mediocrity of my previous attempts on this course.


But the disappointment will soon subside. If anything it’s a wake up call to pull my finger out and do some actual running. And some yoga. And some core. So you know….everything.

And it starts tomorrow with a long run…

Some of our B team. The camera takes off a foot don't you know...
Pics from Linda and Richard

Thursday, 17 September 2015

2015 Surrey Road Relays

Ah the Surrey Road Relays, a staple of the County fixture calendar and an ever popular competition for local clubs.

This would be my fifth outing at these Champs having been oddly absent in recent years due to being too busy being lapped in a steeplechase race (BAL Qualifier circa 2012) and falling flat on my face over hurdles (BAL Qualifier circa 2013). Twelve months ago, I spent approximately £200 in total to run in the Great North Run purely for bucket list purposes. As a result, I missed out on seeing my club’s men get a medal for the first time in yonks (technical term). Sitting at Newcastle Central station on an empty platform, the very much welcomed texts started arriving telling me what they’d achieved. I punched the air in a Henman-esque manner...hopefully no-one saw. As I sat there exhausted, alone and my wallet considerably lighter after the festivities...frankly I knew where I’d rather be.

Fast forward a year then and there I was standing on the start-line ready to begin the fourth leg. The B team in which I was a part of was safely in the middle of the pack. I glanced over to my right to see a Collingwood Master limbering up with his incoming runner was coming in at the same time as mine. I wish him luck. I can’t think of a time when I’ve beaten him (turns out its nine nil on head to heads to 17 and a half minutes time it would be ten). My teammate tags me...and I’m off...

I find relays incredibly hard to judge. The combination of a rush of blood from the tag and a few cheers from the supporters can often be enough for me to overcook it significantly in the opening kilometre.  I can’t decide whether this is better or worse than the alternative I can often implement which is to trot off very gently and let everyone within striking distance swarm past me with gusto. So somewhere in the middle of these two extremes would hopefully be the target. 

500m gone, out of the park and onto the main road and the Collingwood chap was already rapidly disappearing. With no-one behind that I could hear, this could be a very lonely run indeed. Luckily for me, there were a few backmarkers on a previous leg to target ahead of me who were nicely spread out as we approached the tennis courts. I certainly know how they feel, that’ll be me at Aldershot in two weeks time...

Then of course came THAT hill. The infamous hill, which although not the most challenging you’ll ever face,  is still discussed in hushed tones and at great length by everyone involved both before and after the event. Needless to say that despite it not being the most difficult of hills to the top guys in the always without fail most definitely conquers me. Running up said beastie is very much like having a hangover without the fun part of actually drinking. Once having dragged myself to the summit, it is like the morning after a night out...being falsely lured into thinking that all is well. But a few footsteps later and the knees begin to buckle, the dizzy spell returns and I mostly want to be ill at the nearest convenient spot. Today was no different.

Mercifully a downhill followed which gave me just enough time to see the Collingwood runner in front disappear for good into the distance. I was alone. Into the park I went (roughly halfway) and the legs are gone....the breathing already close to bursting....a good look this was not. A few more backmarkers reeled in, anything to keep going at this point as the stadium comes into view. Its a shame its 2 long left hand turns away and not as the crows flies diagonally across the field which would put me out of my misery.

And then something odd happened. All the marshals begin raucously cheering as I ran past.  Clearly they were bowled over by the slow tortuous way I was struggling past the 3rd leggers. And then the winning women's team flew past me. When I say flew, I mean ferociously sprinted past like I was standing still. Imagine in Mario Kart using the mushroom (not of the magic variety) to overtake your opponent, it was very much like this, which is apt because I felt like that I was on banana skins. Said runner would run 15:50 nearly 3 minutes faster than my best around this course.

600m to go and the last turn for the long run to home. No one in front to catch, the fastest lady was long gone. No one behind to try and keep at bay, that was until the 2nd women's team who I hadn't seen glided past me. Like a silent assassin, the runner floated along without seemingly breaking sweat. I had no answer. I was spent, gone, cream crackered and any other phrase which successfully describes treading on water.

Into the stadium, 300m to go. The arms flapped, the legs were spinning furiously, but there was no change of pace, just one painful slog for home. I sprinted for the line, tagged my partner and promptly collapsed. The agony.

To my surprise, the time for the 4.6km course was 18:19, a course best by 15 seconds...I guess that would be why it hurt then. It would rank me 181st out of 450 odd. Not bad in the grand scheme of things. My team were 22nd. Nice to be in the middle of the pack at events like this, and I'll have to enjoy it for all it's worth now...after won't be like this at Aldershot...

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Cometh the Cross-Country...

It only seemed like yesterday I was throwing my mud laden spikes into a nearby bin at Lloyd park at the culmination of our club championships back in March. Symbolism perhaps of the cross country season finally having come to an end. Six months of ankle deep mud, hills, boggy terrain, hundreds of miles in total and freezing temperatures every weekend had taken their toll. Even our tent exploded and had enough after the Parliament Hill Nationals.

Am I selling this to you yet?

Although at that time I quite literally couldn't wait to get back on the tartan or indeed anything in fact that was solid and not covered in mud, the urge and love of cross country is making a reappearance in my psyche the closer it comes. And a pleasant one too.

Cross country represents the ultimate test against the elements. One minute you are trudging through the sludge (Parliament Hill perhaps?) and the next minute you are going up the steepest of steep inclines (Stammer park springs to mind). Then there's the camaraderie of your club colleagues, an often binding spirit that can often make you dig deeper than imagined previously -particularly at a League fixture or any relay event. Plus there's always the guarantee of excellent competition virtually wherever you race especially at the championships which is often a who's who of the talented runners in that particular region. The Nationals is a particular inspiration and this season's at Castle Donnington will be no exception.

On reflection it's hard to imagine why ever grew tired of cross country in the first place. Bring it on!

This season I've set myself a few aims which are small in the grand scheme of things but hopefully achievable.

A top 100 position in a Surrey League 2nd Div fixture (will be tricky) A top 500 position at the Southern Champs (will be even trickier) 
A top 1000 position at the Nationals (might get by default if the turnout is low) 
And in the immediate future beat my course bests at the regular relays we compete in - namely Wimbledon, Aldershot and Reigate.

It would also be nice to make the team at the Southern 12 stage at Milton Keynes working to the basis that we can field one. 

If I can somehow eek my mileage up to 35 a week rather than the pitiful 20ish it is hovering around at the moment, then I might just have a chance. Let's see...

Roll on the cross country season! 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Banstead Woods ParkRun 379

I’m just eight days away from my Great North Run hack and I’m woefully under prepared. To put it simply, I just haven’t done the training.

Still, on the plus side, I’m still looking forward to ticking it off my running bucket list of races (a National road relay of some description is the thing left on there for me at the moment but I would imagine that won’t happen for a while yet).

And so lining up at the 379th Banstead Woods ParkRun represents my last quality session before 13.1 miles of joy comes around. By quality I mean a 2.5mile warm-up jog to the race from my house (normally struggling to wake the legs up), blasting the 5K itself and then dragging my aching limbs the 2.5miles back home.

Standing on the start-line at Banstead, I go through the usual routines. Knowing I’ll probably be around 20th I stand on the third line of runners back from the front...and there aren’t many races I can do that in let me assure you. It is also a good opportunity to eye the regulars who I’ve been enjoying a few duels with recently. There are a couple of nippy teenage brothers who are always a few places ahead of me in these things so they provide a good target. I spot a chap in an England cricket shirt who is always there or thereabouts in relation to me and then there is a super Vet who has amassed 200+ ParkRuns and leads me 17-6 on head to heads. It was clear...I had my targets.

I also had half an eye on trying to better my personal best here at Banstead which stands at 19:59 I set last in April of last year. Since then I’ve been in the zone of 20:20-40’s but it has been a struggle to get close to breaking that elusive 20 minute barrier. 20:15 is my best this year and that came after an arduous cross-country season. It is obvious that it is lack of training that is having an effect but today feels slightly different...I feel strong...I’m confident I can run it closer this time.

The Race Director shouts go and sure enough I get swamped at the start. I really need to attack the starts of races more, even having done hundreds of competitions I’m still scared of doing so.

“It is only a 5K Matthew....FOR GOODNESS SAKE attack it!” is the mantra I desperately need to employ. There are legs and heels flying everywhere and then there’s the inevitable bottleneck soon after starting, but soon enough we were into our running and away.

The first mile went by without incident and I was through in 6:42. Not bad. And the bonus was that a nice long downhill follows shortly receiving this news. Oh how good I feel at this moment, peaking at 5:34 miling, opening up the stride and feeling full of running. Oh how awful I will feel when I have to do this again on the next lap...

Despite my slow start, I had been reeling people in at regular intervals during the first lap so was confident I’d be running close to the 20 minute barrier I so desperately want to break. I was anxious as I approached the halfway mark and as the marshal shouting the time-checks neared everything seemed to go in slow motion (quite literally).

“Ten minutes Ten” was the cry and disappointment was my instant response.

Damn is nearly impossible to run negative splits on this course in my experience, a 9:40-49 second lap is completely out of the question. A defeatist yet realistic approach...I’d just have to fight to the finish now.
The great thing about Banstead is that there is no time to rest on your laurels. As soon as you go past the halfway marker you head straight up an energy sapping gravel hill. I flew past a teenager who had overcooked it too early. I felt sorry for him, we’ve all been there that’s for sure.

I missed my 2nd mile time due to fatigue and instead focused on the England cricket shirt chap ahead of me who in turn was reeling in one of the speedy teenage brothers who appeared to be struggling. I had about 50m to make up and thankfully closed the gap as we began the long descent to home.

Tucked in behind them, the England cricket shirted chap looked to the teenager “Come on mate let’s keep going”. Fair play to him, ParkRunners are all in this together, and comments like that provide such a boost when the going gets tough. It was great of the guy to shout encouragement at this late stage when he must have been hurting like hell at the same time. I doubt I could have formed a coherent word let alone sentence...such was the state of my wheezing at this point. It clearly worked for the teenager who picked up the pace.

As we approached the corner for 200m to home I tried to attack if only to try and get close to 20:15 (my best this year). I had no challenge behind me, it was now (as Bill Withers once didn’t sing) just the three of us. The time check was read out at the PB goal had long gone, but two more scalps hadn’t. It turned out to be the battle for 18th, 19th and 20th.

I made my move as soon as we reached the flat stuff. The theory being that this might be enough to run the teenager’s almighty kick out of his legs. It wasn’t. I rounded both of them but the teenager flew past with unnerving ease and I had no more gears to give. It is amazing how many times this has happened to me in races. The sight of me going past people in the latter stages clearly has a mystical effect on other runners. I clung on to the end for 19th, one out of the two scalps wasn’t bad in the circumstances even if the time of 20:32 was essentially just par for course.

A top 20 finish out of 186 was nothing to be sniffed at. Better not get used to it though. Soon I’ll be in Newcastle against 50,000 others...

Monday, 18 August 2014

2014 Wimbledon 5km

The County 5K. A race traditionally where more than half the field goes under 20 minutes. My local ParkRun therefore...this certainly is not.

The Wimbledon 5 has, up until recently, always been in my calendar. The old race/course - the “Belgrave Bolt” in 2008 was one of the first times I felt everything click as a runner. A run of 19minutes and 38seconds was in the grand scheme of things nothing to write home about, but for me, one of my quickest 5K’s I’ve done to this day. I remember the feeling of overtaking people who had in the past I’d seen running off into the distance. I felt like I was flying (mostly thanks to the sessions done with Bournemouth AC the previous winter) and I was loving every minute. I also remember winning a voucher for the third best handicap score in the Surrey Road League one year (the dark days when I was managing 55 minutes for a 10K) and one year laughing heartily at the sight of the Fulham FC badger setting off the race. This race therefore has more than its fair share of happy memories for me.

Since then of course, the race has moved to Wimbledon, and surprisingly (browsing through my race diaries) I’ve only had one go at this since it has found its new home. That came in 2011, where I ran a not terrible 20:23. A realistic target then, this time round.

Training of late has been just above the technically termed “enough to get away with” mostly containing track & field gap filling (18.2secs for a 100m takes pride and place on my Power of 10) and runs to and from the local train station. I have however managed to at least get some longer runs in recently with my Great North Run hack looming ever larger in a fortnight’s time.

My day began in the best possible fashion bumping into a local running legend at the train station Robin Dickson. The man is an inspiration. A prolific runner in his day (I’m fairly certain his PB’s would win most of the local road races nowadays including this one) he is now a prolific coach and still runs now even in his 70’s. 40 minutes on the trams and trains to get there exchanging stories was just the boost I needed on a grey Sunday morning.

After the usual hellos and chats with the rest of the team and a full warm up it was time to start and it wasn't long before I'd made my first howling error of the morning.

Not wanting to get too cold, I kept doing drills until the last possible minute before the race start. The bad news for me however was that the last possible minute for me in this case meant that the whole field had already lined up meaning I had to start from the back. A more aggressive runner would have shoved politely through the melee into a part of the field more befitting of their standard. By contrast I stood at the back, metaphorically kicking myself, because I am a lemon. Oh how wonderful hindsight is.

Howler number two came in my choice of lane. The first 450m would be on the track, I foolishly chose (out of the entire track) lane one to start in. The worst lane choice imaginable, under the circumstances. The klaxon went and I was practically crawling as the rest of the field sped off jockeying for position. Trapped and boxed in, it would be 200m before I could force my way out in lane seven. With my lack of training, it is imperative to at least get the basics right in race situations, so far I was doing my best to throw it away before the race had barely even begun.

Now in lane seven, I could get into my running, the aim was to get to just under 4min kilometres before the infamously hill 2km into the course. And that's what I did, 3:50s flashed up on my Garmin. At the Parkrun, that pace would be enough to dispatch a handful of people who had overcooked it at the start. Here however it made no difference whatsoever. No one went past me, and no one bit my dust - we were all going at the same pace. Time to panic...

Approaching the hill at 2km, things were going well, I'd picked up a dozen places and I wasn't feeling overtly tired since my gentle 8miles the previous day (not recommended race prep, but needs must in times of mileage hunting). And then came the hill, with Wimbledon tennis courts looming over on the right hand side of the road. To be honest the hill isn't the steepest it in the world if you've got training in the bank. I don't however, and although it didn't kill me off entirely, I only picked up one or two places mostly due to others blowing up rather than my own skill. I lost a few more.

What goes up must come down, and if the hill was like vegetables (horrible but good for you) then the downhill at 3k was very much like dessert. Letting the legs flow and being at full stride is probably one of the best feelings in sport, and here at least, I could enjoy that at least for a few hundred metres. Looking around me there was a group of six of us all going at the same pace, two of whom I definitely recognised, I'd have to get ahead of them if I wanted my course best.

2km to go, and we were back in the park, only two left hand turnings (after some long straights) and we'd be back in the stadium. The legs hurt, I was breathing heavily, this would be an awful fight all the way to the end. I’d edged past the half a dozen who were with me on the downhill and now trying to reel in anyone else who was in front of me. I got to 4km in 16:20...aims of a sub 20 were now out of the window, now it was just about survival. A Wimbledon Windmiler had been tracking me for the last kilometre, it is incredible the difference a good battle can do for pace. Back and forth we went, until I turned for the final time towards the arena. A quick look on Power of 10 revealed I’d only beaten him once before to his four wins over me, so that was a nice scalp if nothing else.

Into the stadium, and suddenly the tartan underfoot put a spring in the step. There’s something quite special about finishing in the stadium – even if it is just a local road race. And so the obvious reaction was to begin sprinting with 200m left. I dropped one chap who I’d never beaten before but then took another with me. Back and forth we went, going through the gears and neck and neck as we went into the home straight. It was like Chris Thompson and Daniele Meucci in the European Champs in 2010 (except about 6 minutes slower....than they went through a 10k race...). Seb Coe once alluded to going through the gears in the last 100m, reaching top and praying no-one went past. Well I had reached my “top”, but it was to no avail, and my neighbour got away with five metres to go.

Collapsing on the grass after the finish line, the good news was I’d bettered my time from three years ago with 20:17 for 113th out of 244. But it was a case of what ifs. What if I’d attacked the start more? What if I’d started higher up in the field? Could I have pushed it more? Who knows, this is after all, the curse of every runner. And ultimately the reason runners come back time and again to toe the start-line. Until next time I thought as I staggered to my feet coughing up a lung...until next time...